There's no shortage of things to talk about right now, offseason be damned. With the draft just two months away and free agency close enough to taste, 3k and I started a running conversation about some of the key issues facing the St. Louis Rams, draft prospects, current players and much more that we're going to turn into the "Bump and Run" series. We started the first edition of BnR with LSU receiver Brandon LaFell, bumping from there onto some other pertinent issues.
I know people are getting a little exhausted with the QB and DT talk, so this seems like a nice time to switch the conversation to wide receivers, which, in case you forgot, is a pretty significant need for the Rams moving forward. A player I really like and one I think would be good fit for the Rams is LSU's Brandon LaFell. We've talked about him some on TSR in the past, and having caught a decent share of SEC games this last season (far more than any other conference, but is that a surprise?) I've generally liked what I see.
I'll admit his route running isn't super polished, and that could push a guy like USC's Damian Williams above him in the draft. I like LaFell because he's a big dude, 6'3" 200+ lbs. The guy plays like it too. He can even block, with another check mark for the "pro" column given the Rams running game. Anyway, he can make some nice catches that make me think red zone target, and his body can make for some nice yards after the catch, always a plus in the west coast system. It's going to take me some time to get used to that system after the Martz era.
What do you think about LaFell? Is he a fit for our team and current group of receivers, or is there too much duplication? Can he be that mythical #1 wide receiver?
I think you've hit on his skills and his deficiencies pretty accurately, though I would say he's an elite blocker at the WR position. In my WR big board back in December, I said he reminded me of Plaxico. He might be a bit more physical than that, but that's where I see him.
As for the questions you posed, I certainly like him for our scheme. He could be a very good 3rd down and red zone target, he could help in the running game, and he's avoided the diva tag that so many WRs carry these days.
My issue is opportunity cost. For those of you who slept through your econ class, opportunity costs are the goods or services you don't get when you opt for a mutually exclusive option. In other words, if we take LaFell with our 2nd round pick (where we'd probably have to take him unless we get another 2nd rounder), the opportunity costs are those other players we could have had, i.e. Sean Weatherspoon, the DT options if we opt for a QB at the top of the 1st, vice versa, Gresham if he falls to the 2nd, Iupati if he somehow escapes the 1st, etc. I'm not sure LaFell is as necessary to the team if Laurent Robinson is healthy.
Here's my return question. If you could pick one facet, or two, of our gameplay on either side of the ball that would dramatically improve our team, what would it be? Pass rush? Man-on-man pass coverage? Route running? I think identifying our biggest deficiencies goes a long way in assessing how much we improve our team over the offseason.
A healthy Laurent Robinson, what a difference that would have made last year, huh? I wonder though if there's not a tendency emerging to put too much faith in our group of wide receivers based on what we saw from Robinson early on and Gibson after acquiring him during the season. I'd feel much better about that group if they were healthier...and there was some clarity on the QB front. A number one wide receiver, a true blue prototypical number one, do-it-all receiver would be a great addition to the mix, but you hit the nail on the head with the idea of opportunity cost in the second round. Those types of wide receivers are not exactly a dime a dozen. They get snapped up in the first round and leave the really good specialists or guys with potential for the second round and beyond. Do you think the Rams have enough at WR? What happens if one of our three primary guys - Robinson, Gibson and Avery - end up on the sidelines with an injury again?
If Jermaine Gresham were available when the Rams pick at the top of the second round, you wouldn't need to add another receiver to the mix. As much as that pick may be best served finding a defensive lineman (because I think the Rams will, barring a trade, use their first pick on a QB) it would be hard to pass up a talent like Gresham. Or, maybe I'm off here. I think the Rams could really benefit from a major upgrade at WLB, which makes Weatherspoon a great pick. For me, a player like that would have as much impact on our run defense as a DT, maybe more. (I've got a whole bunch of thoughts about the Rams DTs, but we'll get into that later).
That partly answers your last question. With enough tape, opponents did a pretty good job of isolating James Laurinaitis. A better WLB combined with Animal Jr. would go a long way to preventing opposing runners from gashing us for huge yards. It's harder to assess the team from the standpoint of actual facets of the game rather than by talent and positions, something that separates the armchair coach from the real deal. I'd say pass rush is a huge need, but I think getting better penetration from our defensive line gives a broader view of one of the Rams' major deficiencies last year. On the other side of the ball, I think it starts with improved QB play, someone who can read defenses, make adjustments and find open receivers. Of course, that person has to have receivers that get to the right place and hands enough to make tough catches.
Let me turn that question back to you, and add this: how are some of the names identified by draftniks likely to impact those deficiencies?
- the current depth chart and injury issues - It's possible we're looking at too much of the silver lining in our WR corps without looking at the crappy veneer covering that lining, but I would note a couple things. First, this is a very young group in Robinson, Gibson, Avery, Amendola, Burton, and Foster. I can't see why they won't individually and collectively improve year by year. Second, one of the more important factors is chemistry. Look at what Brees was able to do with an offense he had grown ridiculously comfortable with compared to Manning having to work magic with newer (and less experienced) options such as Garcon and Collie. We haven't had much stability at wideout in recent years and I think that, as much as anything, has minimized how effective our passing game could have been. Lastly, the group combines different strengths. Robinson's poise and hands. Avery's speed. Gibson's athleticism, and Amendola's, hmm, squirrelyness? Sure, you'd like to see all of those in a single guy, but as many teams have shown, you can do just as well with a well-rounded crew than with a top WR and a bunch of diversions in uniform. As for injuries, they happen. And unfortunately, they have hit us hard as all hell in the last couple of seasons. Whether that changes or not, I think it would be a poor strategy to build our team around the possibility of losing guys to injury. If that were the case, we'd have to consider getting a great RB ASAP. Not exactly a priority otherwise.
- Gresham - Speaking of injuries, I think we have to tread lightly here. Gresham has a big red flag in terms of injury concerns, but he was better than any TE in football as a sophomore. The risk-reward seesaw can cost you millions. Well, not you personally, unless you're Billy Devaney or the great Khan. (BTW, nicknames needed. Hard not to tread on the racism thread. The Wrath of Khan? Genghis? I need help) In any case, as you mention, I don't think the pro of drafting Gresham is worth the con of opportunity cost, DT or OLB.
- deficiencies - Let's break that down as we get into this. You identify four concerns: OLB play (I expanded from WLB to include SLB), the pass rush, QB play and WR play. Which one should we examine? Is it possible to address all four in a single draft with this roster? And BTW, I'm really hoping we find a way to bolster one of those areas in free agency...